"You sure yous are in the right place?" said the bartender, a crag of a man with a great head of white hair and a missing arm. The thief, Earl Ganz, I presumed.
"We're in the right place," I said. "I'll have a seabreeze."
Ganz blinked at me. "Say what?"
"A seabreeze. It's a drink."
"Hey, Charlie," said Ganz without looking away, "guy in the suit says he wants something called a seabreeze."
A slim-jim at the end of the bar, long, brown and desiccated, said in a rasp, "Tell him to drive his ass on down to Wildwood, face east, open his mouth."
I turned away from the derisive laughter swelling behind me. "You don't know how to make a seabreeze?"
"Are you really sure yous in the right place. We don't got no ferns here."
"Careful," I said. "My mother's name is Fern."
"No, not really. Do you have grapefruit juice?"
"It's late for breakfast, ain't it?"
"You kidding me, right?"
I let out a long disappointed breath. "Why don't you then just inform me as to the specialty of the house?"
Earl Ganz blinked at me a couple times more. "Hey, Charlie. Man here wants the speciality of the house."
"Give him a wit," said Charlie.
"A wit?" I said. "Something Noel Coward would have ordered, no doubt."
One of the guys behind me said, "Wasn't he the councilman up in the third district, caught with that girl?"
"Yes, he was," I replied. "All right, Earl, let me have a wit."
Earl took a beer glass, stuck it under the Bud spigot, pulled the spigot with his stump, placed it before me.
I looked up at him, puzzled. "That it?"
He took a shot glass, slammed it on the bar next to my beer, filled it with tequila. When I reached for the tequila, he slapped my hand away. Then he lifted the shot glass, hovered it over the beer, slop dropped it inside. The beer fizzled and foamed and flowed over the edges of the mug.
"What the hell's that?" I said.
"A guy comes in," said Earl "sits down, says, 'Earl let me have a Bud,' he gets just the beer. But he says, 'Let me have a Bud wit,' then this is what he gets." He leaned forward, cocked his head at me. "Mister, it's the closest we got to a speciality of the house."
I stared at the still foaming drink for maybe a bit too long, because an undercurrent of laughter started rising from behind me.
Beth reached over, snatched the beer with the shot glass still inside, downed it in a quick series of swallows, slammed the empty back on the bar so the shot glass shook. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, swallowed a belch.
"How was it, missy?" said Earl
"It's not a seabreeze," said Beth, "but it'll do."
I took a twenty out of my wallet, dropped it on the bar. When another wit sat before me, boiling over, I lifted the glass high, turned to face the crew watching me from among the tables, said loudly, "To Joey Cheaps," and downed my drink.
It roiled in my stomach like a pint of sick. I shook my head, gasped out a "God, that's bad.".
I expected a jiggle of laughter at my discomfort with the drink, I expected a few expressions of surprise that I had mentioned Joey Parma, I expected maybe a few murmurs of assent to my toast, a few sad exclamations of poor bastard as they remembered the man who had turned Jimmy T's into his local tap. I expected something different than what I got, which was a dark, glum silence.
It took me a minute to figure it out, but I did.
"So," I said, "how much he end up owing you guys when he died?"
There was a moment more of quiet, and then one of the men said, "A hundred and six."
The foregoing is excerpted from Past Due by William Lashner. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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